In the Yemeni coastal town of Al-Tuhayta, 19 months into a devastating civil war, Futayni Ali watches helplessly as his five children complain of hunger. “We couldn’t even buy shrouds to bury those of us who have already died from hunger,” says the fisherman in his 50s, referring to other town residents. Ali used to make USD 30 a day from fishing in the Red Sea before the war between Shiite rebels and loyalists escalated in March 2015 with the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition.
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But work stopped for Ali after the coalition started its military campaign including air strikes to push back the rebels, after they overran the capital Sanaa and advanced on other areas.
“We’re waiting for death to arrive. We can no longer do anything to feed our hungry children,” says the desperate father, who lives in the rebel-held western province of Hodeidah.
“We have sold all we had — even the beds we slept on and the plates we ate from.”
Almost 7,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed and three million people displaced in the conflict since March 2015, according to the United Nations. But in an impoverished country already suffering from widespread food insecurity before the war, hunger has also escalated with millions in need of food aid.
One and a half million children suffer from malnutrition, including 370,000 for whom it is so severe it weakens their immune system, the UN children’s agency says. Hodeidah, where Ali and his family live, was Yemen’s poorest province even before the war. Today health authorities there warn of a “catastrophic situation due to starvation”.
The crisis is most visible in Ali’s hometown of Al-Tuhayta, where many have been reduced to skeletons with pale faces, sunken cheeks, and blank eyes.
“Around 5,000 people… could face death from hunger” in the town, warns town official Hassan Handiq.
In the provincial capital of Hodeidah, frail Saeeda –whose name ironically means happiness in Arabic — is struggling to stay alive.
“We have nothing left to eat,” the 18-year-old with protruding bones says, sitting on a wheelchair at a therapeutic feeding centre.